Henry Jeffrey’s, author of “Empire of Booze: British history through the bottom of a glass” argues the case for the traditional tie, in all its glory!
I owe my high-flying career in publishing to the tie. It was the early 00’s and I was a lowly PR assistant at Hodder & Stoughton. I’d been there for three years and I was going nowhere. Senior editors would patronise me, journalists would ignore me and authors would look at me askance wondering what happened to that bright, efficient blonde who used to do their publicity. Then one day on whim I decided to wear a tie to the office. The effect was amazing: within a couple of weeks I was invited to meetings because people were interested in my opinion, at parties people would assume that I was in charge and literary editors would seek me out saying that we should have lunch. In an industry as scruffy as publishing, wearing a jacket and tie marked me down as someone important even if I wasn’t. Even better, some days I’d wear a suit and tie for no reason at all and then smile mysteriously when people asked if I had a job interview. A year later I was put in charge of the literary imprint. It was all downhill from there.
Ties don’t just look smart and mark the wearer out as someone professional; they say to whoever you are dealing with that they are important. The tie has reigned triumphant since it evolved from the bowtie and the cravat in the 19th century.
Everyone used to wear ties. The only time I saw my grandfather without a tie was when he was on the golf course. Now, however, it looks like the tie might be going the way of the hat or the codpiece, once mighty items of clothing that disappeared almost overnight. Wear a proper hat such as a trilby today and it just looks like an affectation. Try wearing a codpiece to a job interview and see how far you get.
Clothes have been getting less formal since the 60s, but I think the two harbingers of the demise of the tie were Tony Blair and hip hop. Before hip hop, even as recently as the 1980s, pop singers, soul singers and the like used to dress up. I particularly liked the funky stockbroker look worn by Alexander O’ Neal and Robert Palmer. Hip hop stars who emerged in the late 80s, in contrast, wore baggy jeans, track suits and trainers and the youth lost their tie-wearing role models. At the same time Tony Blair, the archetypal trendy vicar, ditched the tie in order to be down with kids. His official portrait unveiled in 2008 was the first of a male British prime minister without a tie.
Where Blair led Cameron followed. The Notting Hill set look was suit and white shirt worn without a tie, which made them look like they’d always just finished work, apt I suppose. Now John Bercow, the pint size Speaker of the House of Commons, has said that ties and jackets are now no longer mandatory in the chamber.
The end of an era? Maybe. No one wants to look like members of the establishment, especially members of the establishment. People in professions such as advertising would not be seen dead in a suit and tie. You often see them, middle-aged ad men, skateboarding down Charlotte Street in skinny jeans. At hangout for the self-consciously creative, Shoreditch House, they don’t allow ties but they have to allow in the suits to pay the bills for so you have the peculiar sight of dozens of heavy-set, city types removing their ties as they go in. I fell foul of this rule one night but the manager later came over and apologized; apparently the rule wasn’t meant for people who can wear a tie with panache.
Not all ties, however, are so respectable. In the 70s the enormous kipper ties worn by Noddy Holder from Slade parodied the sobriety one associates with tie-wearing. How you wear your tie says a lot about you. Schoolboys subvert the tie by wearing theirs either very long or very short.
And if a tie says trust me then estate agents with their enormous Windsor knots in shiny pink or silver say the opposite. The Duke of Windsor never actually tied his tie in a Windsor knot. His were just made of very thick silk so he had a naturally large knot. In From Russia with Love Bond has his suspicions about a British agent because of his tie: “Bond mistrusted anyone who tied his tie with a Windsor knot. It showed too much vanity. It was often the mark of a cad”. The Windsor wearer turned out to be a Russian agent.
For me a tie should always be tied in a schoolboy knot, it should be silk, not too thick and hang down to the belt, not inches below like Donald Trump. The right tie can lift an outfit. At Hodder most of the time I wore a rather shabby corduroy jacket but with a splendid tie. A tie is one of the few ways that a buttoned-up Englishman can express himself. I have a magnificent blue and red polka dot Chloe tie that belonged to my grandfather. He was a rather forbidding figure, but that tie showed that he had a playful side. That’s what I love about ties, they are a way of dressing up, showing off and being a bit of dandy without looking like a ponce.
Ties tell a story. There are old boys ties, regimental ties, livery ties and club ties. I know a few people who would kill to have an MCC tie. They can have sentimental value too. As well as a number of my grandfather’s, I have an old Oratory tie that belonged to a favourite uncle. As I didn’t go to the Oratory, I’m probably not supposed to wear it but I haven’t been pulled up yet.
Finally there’s a secret about which the tieless are missing out on. Far from making you look stuffy and pompous, women love them. She may not pick up on an expensive watch, but I’ve lost count of the number of compliments that Chloe tie has received. If she plays with your tie, you’re probably in luck while let’s not forget that a tie is custom designed for pulling you in for a kiss.
Ties are sexy, dammit. We’d be mad to let them go without a fight. So wear a tie, even in fact especially when it’s not necessary. You’ll be happier, wealthier and sexier.
TURNBULL & ASSER TIE GUIDE 2017
Boisdale Life turned to iconic gentleman’s bespoke shirt and tie maker Turnbull & Asser, for some advice on ties for every occasion. Since the 1600s, gentlemen and women alike have adorned their necks with fabrics as a sign of nobility, form and fashion. From the humble neck tie to bold ascots, these statements have been a ubiquitous sartorial accessory ever since. The question shouldn’t be ‘why we should be wearing ties’, but rather, ‘how we should be wearing them?’ In today’s age, one can go from smart to casual in a matter of moments (or meetings), which is why the versatility of the neck tie cannot and should not be underestimated. Here are three of our favourites, and how best to wear them.
The term ‘smart casual’ has generally confused people since its conception. How smart is too smart? How casual is too casual? Our knitted ties find solid common ground and can go either way depending on how you wear them and, importantly, where you wear them. Team a silk knitted tie with a crisp, white T&A dress shirt for a smart event, or opt for a wool knitted tie with an Informalist button down for dress codes on the easy-going side.
With a modern matte printed finish, streamlined designs are smooth to touch, all-the-while allowing for a pumped-up colour palette. They are lighter in weight, particularly compared to our Seven-Fold ties, making them ideal for warmer weather. They provide the perfect balance for gents that favour a relaxed style, whilst remaining formal. Go for a smart blazer during the day, and fling it over the shoulder for the night.
The secret to a fine tie is the attention to detail. Hand-woven silk styles, crafted by skilled artisans and hand-stitched with bonded thread, are almost indestructible. The jacquard weave adds a touch of sophistication without ever going overboard. When you’re looking to make a statement with a smarter outfit choice, opt for a woven silk tie with a high-buttoned, single-breast waistcoat as part of a three-piece suit. It a head-turner – to say the least.